Hate Gin? This Strawberry Cocktail Will Change Your Mind

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cocktail_column_07.15_slide_annaIllustrated by Anna Sudit.
For years, I was afraid of gin. At its best, it tasted like pine-needle tea; at its worst, Pine-Sol. And, at its most covert? Cucumber and rose. Truth be told, my favorite type of gin cocktail buried all the juniper under layers of fruit and sugar and bitters to the point where I could've been drinking any type of alcohol at all. Uh-uh, not cool.

Of course, a great cocktail won't mask a spirit entirely. A well-composed drink lets a liquor's most notable qualities shine, just as, say, your significant other brings out the best in you. Which moves us to this week's cocktail, the Strawberry Bearcat from John Ploeser (who is, full disclosure, my boyfriend) of Brooklyn's Featherweight.

Inspired by the classic Army & Navy, Ploeser's concoction combines London dry gin, lemon, orgeat (an almond syrup), and Peychaud's Bitters and gives a nod to summer with the addition of muddled strawberries. Mix it all up over crushed ice and you've got the loveliest, most delicious adults-only snow cone of the season.

A pretty cocktail, to be sure, but another beauty of this beverage is that you still know you're drinking gin without feeling like you're sucking on a pinecone — the fruit and orgeat cut some of those pine-y qualities and bring to life the spirit's peppery, flowery notes. To allow for this, you will actually want to use a gin that has a juniper bite; Ploeser recommends Beefeater, but Bombay dry (not Sapphire), Tanqueray, or Gordon's will also suffice.

Take heed, though: Certain elements of this drink will require a tad more work. The pebbled ice, for one, will have you pulling out the big guns — that is, your biceps. But, why shouldn't you get a workout while whipping up a cocktail? Pack a canvas or Ziploc bag full of the frozen stuff and smack it around with a muddler, a mallet, or even a giant spoon; you'll want pea-sized chunks. Or, give your ice a round through a blender or food processor. You could, of course, compose the Bearcat over regular ice cubes, but the smaller pebbles allow for greater dilution, and you'll want that in this somewhat-sweet concoction.

Additionally, you may not be able to find orgeat in just any grocery aisle, but can easily track it down online. (Some forums recommend Small Hand Foods' as a suitable version.) However, I suggest you craft a batch of the syrup at home. Not only will you get mix-master bragging rights among your friends, but orgeat keeps for several weeks and is a major component in the tiki-standby Mai Tai.

Below, how to whip up your own orgeat and Strawberry Bearcat at home.

Orgeat
Yields: Slightly more than 1 quart

4 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 qt unsweetened almond milk
1 oz amaretto
1/2 oz almond extract
1/4 oz rose water

Directions
Combine all ingredients, and heat until sugar dissolves — but do not bring to a boil. Let cool before using.

Strawberry Bearcat

3 small strawberries
3/4 oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice
3/4 oz orgeat
2 oz London dry gin
4 dashes Peychaud's Bitters

Instructions
1. Muddle strawberries, sliced and stemmed, in a rocks glass.
2. Add lemon juice, orgeat, and gin, and top with crushed ice.
3. Dash bitters over ice, and top with more crushed ice for a snow-cone effect.
4. Garnish with half strawberry.